Saying what we mean is so much better than putting shame into what we are saying.

By Doreen T. Sutherland, MBA

What we say is a literal shame.  We use shaming, blaming words and we don’t even know it. I do it. You do it. We all do it. We must stop. Here are some words to think about.

Don’t say COMMITTED suicide. It sounds like you’re saying the person committed a crime like stealing, attacking someone or murder. Suicide is not a crime; it’s the product of a medical illness. Let’s be part of the modern era and stop hiding behind our mothers’ aprons. It’s died OF pnemonia, heart attack, stroke, cancer, suicide. 

Don’t say she IS bipolar or she IS schizophenic. People are actually people first and foremost. SOME people get diseases and chronic physical or mental health conditions. The disease is not their identity and it does not define their character or who they are. She is not pneumonia or cancer. She HAS bipolar disorder or she has OCD or she is a person WITH bipolar disorder. That simple change makes “bipolar” the noun it should be and absolves it of the ugly responsibility of being a reluctant adjective or adverb.

Don’t say he IS an addict. Again, people are people, not a disease and this blames him for being part of a group harboring a disease in the same way that we once labeled lepers. He is a person who may have an addiction or a substance abuse disorder. Say he HAS an addiction.

For medical professionals: Don’t say the patient IS NON-COMPLIANT. This is a tough one because it’s so convenient as short hand. What’s really happening is that we are blaming a patient for not following a plan that they may not have understood or have agreed to follow. They may not have had the money to buy the medication, had transportation to get to the referral or had a lack of education that is preventing them from following the plan. Rather than placing “non-compliant” in the permanent record it might be useful to ask, “ WHY ISN”T THE TREATMENT WORKING?”

PROVIDER is an awful word. (And I am guilty of using it. You can probably find it in this blog somewhere.) Providers provide something. Anything. In medicine, a provider is an economic term that places all revenue generators together. It’s offensive to those who have spent dozens of years to master their profession. Say PHYSICIAN, SURGEON, HEALTH PROFESSIONAL.

MIDLEVEL is also a rotten word. Midlevel provider (two lousy words) is a word designed by MBAs to describe the revenue generators in medicine that are somewhere between the doctors and the nurses. I am wondering why the MBAs (like myself) don’t prefer to be called MIDLEVEL ACADEMICS since we are somewhere between those with bachelors degrees and PhDs when it comes to knowledge about these things. It’s better to say PHYSICIAN ASSISTANT.

Saying what we mean is so much better than putting shame into what we are saying.

Inspired by Pamela Wible, MD